A depleted debate
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To no one's surprise, Lok Sabha was adjourned on the first day of the last week of the monsoon session. The last two weeks of the session have been washed out because of the standoff over the CAG report on coal block allocations. On Monday, however, three bills were passed amid the din. The passing of the bills without discussion or debate underlined Parliament's incapacity to discharge its deliberative function and responsibility, induced in the present circumstances by the BJP's unrelenting boycott of the House.
However, the mechanical passage of the bills on Monday is not the striking exception it should have been. Rather, it draws attention to a larger pattern of erosion, the steady shrinking of parliamentary debate. According to data compiled by PRS Legislative Research, since 2009, one in five bills passed has seen less than five minutes of debate in the House. Clearly, while the BJP may be largely to blame in the present instance, there is a longer history of the politics of obstruction triumphing over the imperative of debate — and this points to a shared culpability. Bringing Parliament to a halt could not have been as easy as it has seemed for the opposition party, if the ruling party could then take the high moral ground on the matter, or if the opposition party apprehended electoral penalties for its behaviour.
The three bills passed on Monday, including the Protection of Women Against Sexual Harassment at Workplace Bill, 2010, were not contentious pieces of legislation. Yet, it is no secret that a large and crucial legislative agenda is languishing for want of the lawmakers' attention, including that of a combative and alert opposition. This includes the land acquisition bill, the banking laws amendment bill, the forward contracts bill, the whistleblowers' bill, the judicial accountability bill and a set of three of the major higher education bills. But given the pattern of the shortcircuiting of debate — and not just over the pretext of coal — there is receding confidence that these bills would receive their share of due scrutiny and deliberation. This waning trust is the real damage an impasse like this one underscores.
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